It took jogging the memory of his commanding officer -- along with the lobbying efforts of a congressman -- but World War II veteran Mike Samberg finally got his Silver Star.
The 87-year-old soldier was recommended for the military's third-highest honor after he fought in Saare-Union, a French town where, in December 1944, he overran a German machine gunner and later held off Axis forces as his company regrouped in a church.
For unknown reasons, he received a Bronze Star instead.
A few years back, however, his commanding officer, Edward R. Radzwich, was writing his memoirs and wanted Samberg to contribute his experiences to fill in the gaps.
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The stories Samberg sent back compelled Radzwich to recommend him for a Silver Star four decades after serving. Radzwich wrote a letter to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, to see if the congressman could help.
After years of lobbying, Cardoza gave Samberg the pin Saturday during his annual Blue Dog Bash. "To us it was rather unbelievable," Samberg said Thursday. "I thought it'd be awarded posthumously."
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Submitted video: Congressman Dennis Cardoza awards World War II veteran with his Silver Star for 1944 heroics
The Silver Star is given for bravery and heroics while in combat. Samberg and his wife, Ruth, Merced residents for nearly six years, listened as Cardoza thanked them for their service to the country and told of the two-year fight to get the medal awarded.
"Having read the accounts of Mike's combat actions in France, I knew absolutely that he did not give up on this country, and I'll be danged if I was going to let his country give up on him," Cardoza told the crowd.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 1941, Samberg was too young to sign up for the draft, so he worked to support the war effort. He wrote ordnance descriptions for the Navy and later worked for a company that made the tools to build tanks.
By 1944, he enlisted and began dodging the Army's attempts to have him learn Japanese to intercept communications or train for specialty jobs. He wanted to be on the front lines. "I thought it was a terrible thing that was happening in the world," he said.
He shipped out on Nov. 1 aboard the Queen Mary, headed for England. Assigned to the 26th "Yankee" Infantry Division, his company deployed to a French town that had been taken by the Germans early in the war.
It featured a railroad passing through and was a valuable supply station for the German front.
Samberg helped to overrun a machine gunner, killing two Germans in the process. Two days later, Dec. 3, his undermanned company of about 50 came under attack, repositioned and radioed for air attacks, he recalled.
He hid in an attic to keep the Panzer Army at bay as the company moved back to a church.
An officer's diary from the fight noted there were six tanks and about 100 men.
Still under fire from a tank rolling up the street, Samberg left the building, ducked into another to pull a fellow soldier out and got to the church, where the men were hiding under the pews, awaiting an air strike. One was praying. Samberg tried to keep the mood light.
"I was quipping to keep my courage up," he explained. "It was kind of scary."
A couple weeks later, Samberg was assigned to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, which left 19,000 American soldiers dead.
The frigid weather left Samberg with a case of frostbite on his feet. An Army medic asked him to yank off his boots. His feet felt numb and swollen, and he didn't think he'd be able to put them back on.
That's the point, the medic pointed out.
His blue skin burst open. Samberg was relieved from duty, sent to a hospital and given a Purple Heart.
As he sailed back to America, bedridden on the Queen Mary, the ship passed the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone began crying. A few of the men on board lifted him to a porthole so he could catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty.
Sixty-four years later, at the Merced Fairgrounds, he got another long-delayed reward.
Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or